Illustration of Persuasion (Jennifer Jermantowicz, 2013)

Choose one of the following topics as a prompt when constructing your thesis. It is important for your essay to have both a thesis and specific evidence from the literature to support that thesis. Remember: saying that there are “similarities and differences” does not a thesis make. When comparing two or more things we can always find shared elements as well as disparate elements. In your thesis you need to specifically identify the grounds of your comparison. Think of a thesis as the first step in proving your particular reading of a piece of literature.

You may discuss more than 1 book but for this essay, you must discuss at least one book from the second half of the semester: Longbourn, Mansfield Park, Emma, Persuasion, and Sanditon.

The topics below are just that: topics. You will find an array of suggestions rather than prescribed questions. Furthermore, I have specified no texts. You will eventually “customize” the topic as you form your thesis. You need not feel compelled to answer all of these questions in your essay, and you should certainly also engage with questions of your own.

  • Austen and Character Development: Craft an argument addressing the use of various narrative techniques to develop rich psychological portraits of the heroine. Your short essay should focus on a single text but you may draw upon other reading to support your argument.
  • Austen and Material Culture: What narrative role do material objects (pieces of visual art, letters, poems, etc.) play in texts we have read this semester? Focus your essay on a single text.
  • Austen and Depictions of Physical Space: Craft an argument that addresses the significance of physical space in the text under consideration.
  • Austen and Gender Performance: Construct an argument about the role of gender performance in one of the texts we’ve read this semester, drawing upon prescriptions about femininity and the “ideal” woman in fiction and non-fiction works.
  • Austen and Education: Discuss representations of gendered education in your chosen novel. What are the stakes of education (narrative, psychological, national, and moral)? In constructing this essay, you might consider if attitudes about education differ between the writers we’ve read, or if you can find a consistency of belief.
  • Austen and Literary Criticism: Literary criticism can help you develop your own reading of the text by either inspiring you to follow up on an argument that you agree with or by prompting you to develop your own reading because you disagree with a critic. In an essay that makes use of either 1 or 2 pieces of literary criticism (drawn from essays on the website, or after discussion with me) develop your own reading of the text as you respond to the critical conversation. You may employ the criticism as a vehicle for addressing a text that the critic did not originally consider (i.e. an essay on Sense and Sensibility may give you insights into Pride and Prejudice, for example).
  • NEW OPTION / Austen and her Afterlives: You may write on the ways in which an Austen novel has been adapted to the visual medium of film, or otherwise responded to in literary fiction, fanfiction, or the graphic novel. If you decide to write on a film adaptation, you should be prepared to watch the adaptation(s) in their entirety. It would be an error to base an argument only upon the clips that I’ve had time to show in class. When discussing any post-Austen work (inclusive of film, sequels, continuations, fanfiction, etc.) it is important to take a position on how the modern response has interpreted Austen, rather than simply to detail the ways in which the response is (or is not) “faithful” to the original text. Furthermore, this is not a review. Pursue analysis rather than judgment.  Jo Baker’s Longbourn, for example, can be seen as a critical response to Austen’s novels as much as a creative response. Keep in mind that you should know the secondary work (i.e. Longbourn) as well as you know the primary work (i.e. Pride and Prejudice). 
  • Austen and Social Class: Construct an argument about Austen’s representation of social class and nineteenth-century British culture. How would you characterize Austen’s representation of the social elite? the middle classes? the working classes? What critical end do those representations serve? On the one hand, Darcy is an idealized character, and yet, Austen also suggests that “rising” characters like Mr. Gardiner (Pride and Prejudice), William Price (Mansfield Park), and Captain Wentworth (Persuasion) are valuable. Another way to shape this essay would be to consider Austen’s focus on monetary “worth” versus other systems of value. While Austen goes to great lengths to indicate the ways in which desirability can be based upon financial status, some of her most admirable characters have little money (i.e. Elinor Dashwood, Elizabeth Bennet, and Fanny Price of Mansfield Park). What role do class and gender have in determining worth?
  • You may choose to develop one (or more) of your weekly responses into a longer essay. If you choose this option, please be aware that depending on the scope of the initial writing prompt, you may have to expand the parameters of your initial essay. See below for further details.
  • NEW OPTION / Write your own Austen Fan Fiction: Link here for specific instructions.

Paper Length: 5-7 pages

Please follow MLA guidelines from the MLA Handbook. If you don’t have an MLA Handbook, you should probably purchase one. The Purdue Owl website has been updated, however, and may be sufficient.

Refer to materials posted on Thursday, March 11th for guidelines and expectations.

Final Draft due by Thursday, May 6th at 9:00pm 

Please turn all essays in electronically (google doc link or .doc to